As the indicators that measure Argentina’s stuttering economy contract and decline, one figure in particular is impacting the next generation more than any other: youth unemployment. More often than not, when economic turmoil strikes, it’s the newest entries on the job market who feel the effects of a recession first.
When it comes to the rest of Latin America, Argentina has long posted above average rates for youth unemployment. Yet the country’s ongoing spate of market bedlam has pushed the figure’s rate of growth to a speed not seen since the economic depression of the late 1990s.
In the first quarter of 2019, unemployment for Argentines between the ages of 14 and 29 rose to 20.8 percent, according to the INDEC national statistics bureau – more than double the general rate (10.1 percent).
Compared to the rest of the region, Argentina’s rate is second only to Brazil, a country of a far larger population where youth unemployment currently stands at 29 percent, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), an agency of the United Nations.
The ILO’s most recent figure for youth unemployment in Argentina surpasses that of INDEC’s: 25.2 percent in 2018.
The bureau’s figures do show a decline in joblessness during the first two years of President Mauricio Macri’s administration, dipping to 15.1 percent by the end of 2017. Yet the ILO shows it increasing during the same period, reaching 23.2 percent by the end of Macri’s second year.
The outlook for young people does not look good at present. With Argentina gripped by a crisis that has seen the peso weaken, inflation soar and experts predict the economy will contract by 2.5 percent this year and 1.1 percent next, joblessness looks set to worsen.
At present, the rate of youth unemployment is not only at its highest yet during the Macri government, it’s higher than the initial years of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s two terms in office.
Argentina has also lost the gains it has made since the 2001-2002 economic crisis, according to ILO data, which shows that between 2002 and 2009, youth unemployment experienced a 48.6 percent decline.
In the first quarter of 2019, unemployment for Argentines between the ages of 14 and 29 rose to 20.8 percent, according to INDEC.
Government statistics from 2009 until 2015 remain unclear, however, given the lack of independence held by INDEC during the later years of the Kirchnerite administrations.
In spite of the present turmoil, experts say youth unemployment has always been a problem.
Agustín Morad, a former coordinator of youth employment for the Labour Ministry between 2016 and 2018, explained that while high levels of young people out of work debilitate countries in Europe and Latin America alike, the problem has persisted in Argentina in recent years.
“Especially with some groups it remains very serious,” Morad told the Times. “For young women, it’s a major problem. For young people from vulnerable sectors, it’s a major problem. For indigenous populations, it’s still a major problem.”
Warning signs are continuing to appear. Of late, the rate of joblessness has increased at a rate not seen in recent memory. In the last year and a half, the figure jumped 37.9 percent. By way of comparison, between 1998 and 2002, at the height of another major economic crisis, youth unemployment increased by 48 percent, peaking at 41 percent, according to ILO data.
For José Florito, the coordinator of social protection for CIPPEC, a leading Buenos Aires-based thinktank, Argentina’s recurring economic crises explain the employment gap between young and older individuals.
“When this process happens, which in Argentina is so frequent, [with] such little macroeconomic stability, it’s young people that suffer lay-offs the most,” Florito said.
While reliable figures for youth job loss are not available, the Argentine economy between June 2018 and 2019 lost 172,000 registered jobs.
For many unemployed young people, searching for work affects not just their prospects for future employment, but the daily survival of their families.
“It’s obvious that this has the dynamic of a vicious cycle,” Florito added. “This affects young people as much as their families, and their capacity to earn income or pay for food and public services.”
Statistics for Argentina’s job market in the second quarter of the year are not due to be released until September 19. But given the ongoing spate of economic turmoil, the most recent spell of which was triggered by Macri’s loss in the August 11 PASO primaries, a grim outlook looms for young people searching for work in the immediate future.
Despite the current sour economic landscape, Morad said that during his time at the Labour Ministry, the Macri administration achieved impressive gains with the government’s main youth employment programme Jóvenes Con Más y Mejor Trabajo (“Young People with More and Better Work”).
Started in 2008 and financed in-part by the World Bank, the programme quadrupled its job placement for young people from 3,000 to 11,000 under the first three years of President Macri’s government, according to Morad, who corroborated the numbers with government presentations and news reports.
“If the economy is in a contraction, or is not taking people on in general, it’s more difficult to find jobs for young people,” Morad said. “But in particular, we managed to achieve a very strong advance despite the fact that in 2018 things were not getting better in economic terms.”
Argentina is not the only Latin American country facing a downturn either. In recent years, a tide of faltering economies has deepened youth unemployment across the region.
In the first half of the decade, the amount of young people without work in the region reached a low of 13.9 percent in 2014, according to ILO. Yet as regional economic growth slowed and new austerity-driven governments replaced populist ones, the figure had risen to 19.8 percent by 2017.
“Between 2008 and 2015, youth unemployment was decreasing compared to the increases happening in Europe and the United States, because [Latin America] had improved education spending,” said Guillermo Dema, a specialist in Latin American youth employment for the ILO.
“But several years of very low and even negative growth rates have arrived to some countries in the region, and this plays out in an unstable way for unemployment and the creation or destruction of job positions.”
Like other economic indicators, such as poverty, the lack of work disproportionately impacts young women far more than young men.
In the first quarter of 2019, for example, young women had an unemployment rate of 23.1 percent, three percent above the average. Young men, however, registered 18.5 percent.
“It’s women that often have to stay close to home, that face a series of impediments,” said Dema. For so-called “excluded” young people, those who neither work or attend school, women account for 70 percent, the ILO official added.
Like other economic indicators, such as poverty, lack of work disproportionately impacts young women far more than young men.
CIPPEC’s Florito also noted the role of the “sexual division of labour” towards childcare limits the ability of young women to find work.
“This is true for young women, but above all poor young women, since they don’t have the option of hiring a childcare service,” Florito added.
In times of crisis, even NGOs who specialise in assisting unemployed young people can experience post-primary difficulties in finding work for young people.
Fundación Forge is a regional organisation that offers career training and job placement for at-risk youths. At its headquarters in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Barracas, young people age 18 to 24, clad in private school-like uniforms, participate in programmes that can last up to one year or longer, which teaches them basic career skills, job training and self-presentation.
With its other offices in Pilar, Chaco and Corrientes, the organisation has helped 2,750 young Argentines find jobs in the last six years, reaching 508 in 2018. Yet since the August primary vote, the organisation’s placement numbers plateaued.
In her office, Silvana Muñoz, Fundación Forge’s director of business networks, showed the flatline in a real-time dashboard of the organisation’s placement numbers.
In July, the NGO had placed 253 young people in the job market after steady year-long growth. At the time of the primary vote, the figure stood at 271. It hasn’t increased since.
“Everything is related to the economy, to the macro-economic context,” Muñoz said. “With the situation that we have, if the conditions are extended, businesses don’t take people.”
Yet an internal study by Forge shows that their graduates most often prove to be an economic plus for businesses. In performance evaluations, their students on average outperform regular employees and those placed by other consultants.
Despite the acute economic crisis around them, the students of Fundación Forge are noticeable optimists, excited to eventually find a job and apply what they’ve learned to the workforce.
“I came to Forge because I wanted to obtain a quality job,” said Sarah Ramírez Lobo, 21.
Lobo, dressed identical to her fellow students in black slacks and a white dress shirt, sat in a circle with scores of other young people as they role-play a workplace scenario.
“They’ve talked of so many values that I didn’t start off with, things that have to do beyond work but with life,” Lobo said of her experience at the NGO. “More than anything, how to have a productive life, posture, a ton of things to keep in mind.”
For some experts, more needs to be done by both the government and the opposition to support Argentina’s newest job-seekers.
“Neither in the case of Buenos Aires or Argentina in general, policies of promoting youth employment don’t exist,” Muñoz added. “Our great challenge within Forge and within other organisations is to show to businesses that these kids want to work, have the desire to work and are the best employees.”
CIPPEC’s Florito doesn’t see a “discontinuity” between the youth employment policies of Fernández de Kirchner and Macri’s government. Yet the role of macroeconomics, he explained, ultimately accounts for the contrast in basic employment numbers during the two administrations.
“Employment policies have a limit, a ceiling,” Florito added. “They don’t generate employment in and of themselves… Any strategy for employment and employability has to keep in mind the factors associated with the macroeconomic situation that is going to generate youth employment in the private sector.”